Is backlash a symptom of *insufficient* immigration?

Bryan Caplan writes:

The fact that Londoners showed little sympathy for Brexit is telling: People who experience true mass immigration first-hand tend to stop seeing it as a problem.  “Backlash,” as Tyler Cowen calls it, is a symptom of insufficient migration – the zone where immigrants are noticeable but not ubiquitous.  I know he disagrees, but I honestly can’t figure out why.

The post makes many other different and interesting points, but I’ll stick with this one.  Here goes:

1. Had the UK had much freer immigration, London would be much more crowded.  With truly open borders, people would be sleeping on the sidewalks in large numbers.  London itself would have turned against such a high level of immigration, which quickly would have turned into a perceived occupation.

2. Changes often have different effects than levels: “Where foreign-born populations increased by more than 200% between 2001 and 2014, a Leave vote followed in 94% of cases. The proportion of migrants may be relatively low in Leave strongholds such as Boston, Lincolnshire, but it has soared in a short period of time. High numbers of migrants don’t bother Britons; high rates of change do.”

In other words, had there been higher levels of immigration into non-London parts of the UK, the backlash may well have been stronger yet.  For a careful reader of the Caplanian corpus, that is in fact a Caplanian point and I am surprised it did not occur to Bryan.

3. The highest quality and most easily assimilating immigrants will be attracted to London and the greater London area.  Packing Birmingham with London-style levels of immigration won’t give you London-style immigrants, nor will it turn Birmingham into London.

4. London already has a population pre-selected to like immigration.  Spreading London-like levels of immigration to the rest of England wouldn’t make immigration as popular elsewhere as it is currently in London, even if that immigration went as well elsewhere (which would not be the case, see #3).

5. Post 1980s, England underwent a very rapid and significant change with respect to the number of immigrants it allowed to stay in the country.  If that wasn’t fast enough for the open borders idea to avoid a backlash along the way, then perhaps the new saying ought to be “Only whiplash avoids backlash.”  But that won’t exactly be popular either.

There is a very simple interpretation of current events, including of course the Trump movement in the United States.  It is “the backlash effect against immigration is stronger than we used to think, and we need to adjust our expectations accordingly.”  When Bryan writes “I know he disagrees, but I honestly can’t figure out why”, I think he is simply afraid to stare that rather obvious truth in the eye.  In any case, it’s staring rather directly at him.


As Bryan knows, when it comes to immigration, the marginal revolution in economic thought is just plain wrong. Too much is not enough. You can never have too much immigration. There is no such thing as diminishing marginal returns when it comes to immigration.

Caplan is fundamentally a hypocrite who believes that he can preach Open Borders while restrictionists protect him and his family. In my view, if borders are immoral, so are doors. We need Open Doors for the downtrodden of the world. There are billions of people who would be much better off living in Caplan's home. He should take in a few dozen (randomly chosen) to show his commitment to personal freedom. My guess is that his next pronouncement will be about the virtues of barbed wire and land mines for border control.

I wonder if Caplan thinks that Israel should adopt a policy of Open Borders, allowing anybody who wishes to emigrate to Israel?

Mr. Sailer, of course, got there first. But besides the point that apparently the solution to every problem -- including mayhem and murder by immigrants -- is increased immigration, I would also like to note that there has been no backlash.
There have been some pre-emptive articles warning of a possible (but not actual) backlash, interviewing people who fear that they are being looked at funny.

A backlash is when the number of immigrant fatalities (currently ZERO, for those keeping score) is comparable to the number of fatalities caused by immigrants.

Yet Rotherham voted about 68% for brexit. Clearly not enough immigration there....

It's a well-known fact that once the percentage of your daughters being abducted into sex slavery reaches a certain level, you get used to it and actually see it as a good thing on the whole. #MoreImmigrantsForRotherham

Ah yes, I'd forgotten the formula:

more immigration = more sex slavery = cheaper chippies

Yeah, it's a real head scratcher: a city where native born are out-numbered by immigrants, is in favor of more immigration.

It does raise another question though: How many economists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Depends on how big the light bulb is and how small the economists that want to screw inside of it are.

My wife and I spent a couple of days in London shortly after the Brexit vote. In London proper, we did not talk to anyone who was native born - not in the airport, hotels, restaurants or shops or even on the tube. Everyone we met was from outside of the UK - Spain, France, Lithuania, Italy.

We did see a lot of people sleeping on sidewalks. At the time I thought they were Brits but they probably weren't.

Service workers in most major cities come from somewhere else. Even so, it caught me by surprise that we could spend two days in London and not meet a native.

That's because native Londoners don't talk to strangers.

They don't mix with immigrants.

Steve and his wife were immigrants mixing with their kind, the immigrants.

The people you saw sleeping on the sidewalks were Brits.

It is called replacing the population. It doesn't make those people go away though, it just means they leave the immigrant hub.

Much of the population of high immigrant cities moves on to other portions of the particular country. Many Americans are descended from New Yorkers, 4 million New Yorkers were born there, but in the last 70 years how many were born there.

In 1931 Greater London had 8.1 million people, today it has 8.1 million people. In every year since 1931 births exceeded deaths in Greater London. This implies a vast migration of Londoners to greener pastures.

also, and not explicitly mentioned here or in the comments: London has long been the recipient of a high level of internal UK & Irish immigration. It's basically the place you come to in this part of the world if you want to play in the A league, whatever your job. So there is a constant refreshing and winnowing of the London population, as the young and ambitious come to London, and the parents with growing children move out. This phenomenon exists in parallel with immigration from outside the UK & Ireland. So it is natural that immigration from the EU and beyond suits the character of the city.

Bryan Caplan seems to ignore Putnams study E Pluribus Unum.

# 2 High levels of change like that are only possible where there are low levels of migration in the first place. This doesn't refute the point, but the two seem inextricable, so seems hard to have confidence.

# 3 Roughly correct I think. Though many hotspots in UK may be more favourable still than London in this regard - Cambridge, etc.

# 4 is I think a mammoth here and pretty important - not just on Brexit voting as response to immigration per se, but Brexit as a function of demographic profile overall. The demographic balance of people in London, where it is White British, is more skewed to a particularly subset of Britons who are younger, more consumerist, more high income oriented, less engaged with traditional political concerns (maintaining law and order, maintaining democratic accountability, etc.) and less politically skeptical. That seems to be the Bremain optimal profile.

Also internal migrants who are themselves probably then going to be less inclined to see immigration as a problem, as after all, London is just a place to work and they may go home. When home is Leeds, and London is a place for you to move to make an income and enjoy consuming products and services you couldn't back home, why distinguish between you doing that, or a Pole doing that?

Some of that is because of self selected internal migration, some of that is because of the local culture and economy. More or less external immigration would not replicate that across the country. This is a confounding factor in using Brexit vote % as an indicator of favourability to migration.

Fully adjusted for the "consumerism+career" axis (for a cumbersome description) and for % of White British, how did London vote? We can't know, but maybe more consistent with the rUK.

#2 also almost seems like an arithmetic triviality. If we're using plurality voting, typically the vote shares are small, a few percent. So after not that much immigration, if the immigrants can be expected to vote heavily for Remain, then the area in question will go Remain. If there's any backlash effect, it must happen in the gap between 'no noticeable level of immigration' and 'vote results are now foregone'. A immigrant increase like 200% must be from a small starting population .

Does anyone think that adding migration obligations to the WTO would make the world trade regime more stable and reliable? Yet that is exactly what the EU does by adding freedom of movement of people to freedom of movement of goods and services.

Just wondering what you think of the converse. Would imposing restrictions on movement from one state to another in the USA improve, reduce or be neutral in terms of economic output?

I suspect it would have a negative impact, because the United States has largely solved the transaction costs of internal migration--someone moving from New York to LA will have almost no difficulty assimilating, and even the most culturally diverse points on the American map tend to be closer together than Guatemala is to any given point on the American map.

For that matter, it's not like there aren't already significant internal immigration restrictions in the United States. That's what school districts, historical districts, minimal lot sizes, gated communities, condo boards and HOAs are for.

Well, whether those constitute internal restrictions is a question of definition, insofar as they allocate people within a metro area but don't necessarily prevent people from moving to a given metro area. At the very least, I don't think they're especially analogous to the sort of external restrictions the Leave crowd wants to put on intra-EU migration.

I don't know. Moving into nice towns in the US strikes me as much harder than immigrating between developed world countries.

Sure, but you don't need access to SoHo to enter the NYC job market, you just need access to the tri-state area.

If you think that way, you're defining away some very real restrictions. Restrictions only count if they appear on state borders rather than town or district borders? I don't think that's fair. Immigration within the US is moderately restricted. It's certainly not highly restricted, but we do have measures that restrict movement and they are generally quite popular with the people being protected.

You need to live in Newton Mass to access the Newton "public" schools. There are many restrictions that make it quite hard to move to Newton Mass.

I'll admit to defining away certain restrictions, but only in order to create an apples-to-apples comparison for the thought experiment of comparing internal US migration to intra-European migration.

An immigrant who runs the gauntlet of US Customs and Immigration still faces the additional hurdle of all those informal barriers to entry for particular neighborhoods, so they aren't really "internal restrictions" in the same sense as what the Leave crowd has proposed with regard to intra-EU migration. It's formal barriers that treat people differently based on where they are coming from when attempting to move to a given neighborhood that more accurately resemble those proposals.

America wouldn't be better off, but would Western states all be better off if they could ban California residents from moving there? Yes. Would New Hampshire be better off if it could ban Massholes? Yes. It would increase political and cultural diversity in America, while making state governments more responsive to local populations.

Interesting that you chose LA to NY and not the cultural challenges of moving from Laguna Beach, CA to Lubbock, TX or from Provo, UT to Boulder, CO

"5. Post 1980s, England underwent a very rapid and significant change with respect to the number of immigrants it allowed to stay in the country. "

It wasn't England allowing immigrants to stay in the country it was the UK. It's not the most difficult concept for someone to get their head around, yet I continually see this sort of error.

UK ≠ England.

I know, it's like people saying American when they mean USian.

But joking aside, you're quite right. Mind you, English people do it too.

More like someone saying Yankee when they mean American.

It's more like someone saying "The States" when they mean to include Puerto Rico and DC.

Puerto Rico = Scotland in case anyone wondered.

#1: London already is crowded though. Whether it's on the sidewalk, on the subway, or cars on the road, it's much busier than the rest of the country. For visitors from the rest of the UK, the density (and consequent noise, dirt, waiting in line, invasion of personal space, etc.) comes as a shock. Non-Londoners see the crowds, they hear the foreign voices, and they quickly calculate that immigration equals more crowds. Hence the opposition to greater migration.

Had London developed sufficient infrastructure to cope with the greater numbers, there might be less resistance. But why should a taxpayer in 1996 pay for a new subway line for foreigners to use in 2016?

If only there were some kind of financial instrument that allowed money to be repaid in the future, but sadly there's not.

" People who experience true mass immigration first-hand tend to stop seeing it as a problem"

I can't even get past the first paragraph.
Stop seeing it as a problem? Really? The indigenous people of east London got up and LEFT in the face of mass third world immigration. You can hardly find a cockney in the east end anymore.

Maybe he just means that they're not around to see it as a problem anymore. Ethnic cleansing has a way of doing that. It's amazing, you commit a few terrorist attacks, rape a few thousand underage schoolgirls, demand and get the right to police your own neighborhoods, and suddenly, you have the place to yourself!

Yea, this was a weird proposition. I charitably interpret the professor to mean that those who last through mass immigration fail to see it as a problem, because definitionally, it didn't negatively impact them, but it's a pretty banal point to observe that London millionaires with penthouses to high to be sullied by the unwashed masses might not particularly care about them.

Those penthouses are owned by Saudis now, aren't they?

"The indigenous people of east London got up and LEFT in the face of mass third world immigration. You can hardly find a cockney in the east end anymore."

I'm curious how TC would address that point. I really don't much care about BC's opinion. Much like Paul Krugman, Bryan Caplan's writing is better when it's about something for which he hasn't picked a side.

I am with you, FredAG -- and then some!

To the extent that ”People who experience true mass immigration first-hand tend to stop seeing it as a problem” the true face of mass migration isn't visible when the initial immigration takes place.

You have to wait for generations of the descendants of those immigrants to be born. See what the population numbers are, see what the affects on the environment, housing costs, availability of jobs are in 50, 100, 200 years, etc.

Then you will know if mass migration was a good idea.

If it wasn't, then the future inhabitants of a country can just go ahead and reverse mass migration by ...

What is the procedure for reversing mass migration? It is unclear to me. I wonder what Bryan Caplan would advise?

Someone♪ needs his personal bubble pricked.

If there is going to be mass immigration into my community, why would I want to invest in any public goods, knowing that a substantial portion of my investment will benefit free riders?

Is that ultimately the ideal here - destroy the incentive for collective action and expect the libertarian utopia to arise in the void?

If you decide to move to a different community for personal or work reasons, would you regard all your previous investments in public services to be wasted? And should the people in your new community regard you as a free rider, since you haven't (yet) contributed a cent towards their welfare?

Is every immigrant a free rider? Aren't many of them high-skilled people who can easily pay their way, or even increase the net quality of service in your community?

Investment in public goods and services makes life pleasant for everyone, even for a transient population. Attitudes like yours, i.e., the reluctance to pay because you unjustifiably paint immigrants with a broad brush, calling them free riders, is what may lead to the collapse of a working system.

This goes in the other direction as well. Are immigrants really flocking to the West to fund public pensions and medical care for old, white strangers?

Smaller, more homogenous societies seem to do better with public infrastructure because everybody is on the same team. I like the idea I'm contributing to the future of one of the inner concentric circles of my loyalty. Paying taxes for social services for the children of Afghans who got here one month ago, not so much.

" Smaller, more homogenous societies seem to do better ..

For years I took this at face value, as an attempt actual analysis, but sadly now I believe it is most often a declaration. A declaration that charity should be for people like us.

As it happens, Aarhus fits into my family history. Perhaps what other people see as homogeneous is not seen that way by "us."

surely if enough people believe what TAG believes, then it's self evidently true that those people feel less committed to a looser knit community, and so less willing to support shared projects. It seems unlikely that this is made up for by people who believe the opposite, whatever that would mean (more willing to support shared projects in a looser knit community?)

Different American communities are choosing their "concentric circles" differently. That could be based on a number of things, like how prosperous the community is, and how long everyone has lived there.

California, like London, is full of people from all over. Our circles tend to be "us, here, now."

If you are reading from somewhere your family has been for even 100 years, you are going to have a different perspective.

I don't think one heartwarming NPR story really changes much. We do not live in a Christian Utopia where all people treat all other people as their Brother. I don't particularly want to live in one. I like caring more about my wife and kids than about other wives and other kids. There are, as Anti-Gnostic says, degrees of trust and loyalty.

"California, like London, is full of people from all over. Our circles tend to be “us, here, now.”"

Do you think those circles might be more brittle than those created around history and blood lines? Or perhaps the better way to describe it is that your circles of loyalty may start further out from your nuclear family (or self) in such situations.

Particularly relevant in America this week:

"Christopher Hopwood, an associate professor of psychology at Michigan State University, studies something called noncomplementary behavior. Complementary behavior is the norm. It means when you act warmly, the person you are with is likely to act warm back. The same is true with hostility. But noncomplementary behavior means doing the unexpected. Someone acts with hostility and you respond warmly. It's an unnatural reaction, and it's a proven way to shake up the dynamic and produce a different outcome from the usual one."

So you know, think over how divisive you want to be.

1. "It’s an unnatural reaction, and it’s a proven way to shake up the dynamic and produce a different outcome from the usual one."

A different outcome is not necessarily a better one.

2. Turning the other cheek is not a new idea, but I don't believe it has proven to be a workable basis for organizing and maintaining a society.

"Is every immigrant a free rider? Aren’t many of them high-skilled people who can easily pay their way, or even increase the net quality of service in your community?"

This is a problem crying out for a market. Auction immigration slots. Price discriminate so the 28 year old cardiologist pays less than the illiterate 62 year old. Eliminate the free rider problem by charging the immigrant for what you're giving him.

Kris is making the zero price argument ("It's hard to figure out what immigrants are costing us, so we should charge them all zero."), while the opposing folks are making the zero quantity argument ("Immigrants are costing us something, so we should admit zero."). The answer is in the middle and markets can help you find it.

+100,000 Visas

I'd add the caveat that a majority of the money must be sent back to the state or locality where the immigrant lives. Perhaps spread out over a 10 year period wherever the immigrant has residency in a given year. This would keep entry points from soaking up all of the initial allocation.

If the funding for all such public works were raised in a highly local way, then yes, they should potentially consider me a free-rider.

"Is every immigrant a free rider? Aren’t many of them high-skilled people who can easily pay their way, or even increase the net quality of service in your community?"

Maybe. Many aren't.

"reluctance to pay because you unjustifiably paint immigrants with a broad brush"

Immigrants to the U.S. over the past few decades have been, on average, less skilled and will contribute less to the public pot than the average native.

Rather than pretending something else is true, why not have an immigration system that makes sure that, on average, immigrants are more skilled and contribute more to the public pot than the average native?

"will contribute less to the public pot than the average native."

The average native is a drain on the public pot. You have to earn a lot of money for a long time in this country to pay for the level of government we have. We have the government of a much richer country than the one we actually have.

So edit to be, "will be an actual net contributor to the public pot, unlike the average native, rather than an even larger drain."

That's better. It's an important difference.

The first rule of holes is "stop digging."

Costs roughly $140,000 to send a kid through K-12. Would take roughly $3000 per person or $4500 per worker (not everyone works) at 47 years (18-65) to break even on their public education.

"The first rule of holes is “stop digging.”"

That's the first rule of people not currently digging. Revealed preferences indicate it's not the first rule of people already committed to digging.

"Costs roughly $140,000 to send a kid through K-12. Would take roughly $3000 per person or $4500 per worker (not everyone works) at 47 years (18-65) to break even on their public education."

This also ignore all of the other governmental costs. Which is why low skilled immigration is a drain on public finances. Most studies on the subject conveniently ignore this by stating that children of immigrants are citizens and thus don't allocate the costs to immigration.

1. Any polity of non-trivial size in a developed country is going to have a mix of infrastructure at different stages of life, with some still being planned and under construction, some just coming on line, and some getting to the point of being retired or replaced, but mostly existing infrastructure that requires upkeep from taxes or tolls and user fees and such (also user fees will have amortized construction costs baked into them anyway). The ability of an individual person to front-run infrastructure spending by moving in when it's coming on line and leaving right before it needs to be replaced, is basically zero.

2. Revenue bonds

"The ability of an individual person to front-run infrastructure spending by moving in when it’s coming on line and leaving right before it needs to be replaced, is basically zero."

If a lot of the revenue is raised in a fairly progressive manner, then anyone making low wages (or making no wages, or no reported wages) wouldn't need to leave right before it needs to be replaced.

"Is that ultimately the ideal here – destroy the incentive for collective action and expect the libertarian utopia to arise in the void?"

Caplan has an old post where he answered "yes," to this question. it's based on survey data showing support for welfare policies decline with increasing balkanization.

But at the same time, he condemns anyone who would treat someone differently on the basis of their nationality or ethnicity. Basically, he wants to have it both ways: Europeans should be nationalistic to the degree that they decline to support a generous social safety net...but he wants them to be ultra-cosmopolitan when it comes to setting immigration policy. Seems poorly thought through at best (which is weird, given how much of a preoccupation he has with this topic) and disingenuous at worst.

Interesting point. The Brotherhood of Man may have generous social welfare benefits and an expansive nanny state, as we trust both our government and our fellow man to work in our collective interest when the old barriers of nationality and ethnicity are broken. If a borderless world free of national and ethnic division leads to a large, paternalistic government, would Caplan still be for it?

In other words, are his views on nationality, ethnicity, and borders based on his belief in their abstract merit, or solely as a means to achieving a desired Stateless libertarian paradise (which I would suggest he is mistaken to believe will be the endpoint)?

He just hand-waves the question away. He'll just say, essentially, we already have a large, paternalist government, so what difference does it make? He seems to want to pretend things can't get worse. My guess is he's been avoiding clicking any links to articles about Venezuela the last like eight years or so now.

I've always interpreted Caplan's views as being oriented around the principle of societal self-organization--people can be as racist or as tolerant as they want, but should do so free from government constraint or access to government power to coerce others into joining in. Ethno-nationalist self-segregation is a reasonable plausible outcome of this, but government-enforced borders interfere with the edge cases.

Yeah, and on a conceptual level, that makes perfect sense. He just ought to have the common sense to realize that the same people who think we're all brothers in a great big family called "humanity" aren't going to ever have any second thoughts at all about picking the pockets of productive people to hand it out to all the destitute Hatians he loves to go on about, assuming they can make it to Miami, somehow. And the same applies to the nationalists in reverse: tribal and territorial impulses are strong, and the people whose worldviews are shaped by them aren't going to be satisfied with voluntary associations.

And as some above are pointing out, Caplan seems to believe there can be no such thing as selection effects when a result favors his narrative.

TC has a Reverse Polish Notation nerd style of writing, but I think his point #2 needs an editor: "2. Changes often have different effects than levels: “Where foreign-born populations increased by more than 200% between 2001 and 2014, a Leave vote followed in 94% of cases. The proportion of migrants may be relatively low in Leave strongholds such as Boston, Lincolnshire, but it has soared in a short period of time. High numbers of migrants don’t bother Britons; high rates of change do.”

In other words, had there been higher levels of immigration into non-London parts of the UK, the backlash may well have been stronger yet. For a careful reader of the Caplanian corpus, that is in fact a Caplanian point and I am surprised it did not occur to Bryan."

No, not true, "In other words..." is an incorrect reading of Caplan in the cited passage. Caplan is not complaining about levels, but rates. If TC drops "In other words" maybe the sentence would work, since it implies TC is aware of an uncited "Caplanian corpus" that makes the point TC is raising. But from the preceding sentence it does not follow that TC has summarized Caplan correct, i.e., "In other words" is an incorrect summary.

TC is not unique in writing obtusely; most economists write the same way, to give a false patina of authority to their ambiguous writings. Also useful for hedging bets when you're wrong ('you misread me!').

+1 for "TC is not unique in writing obtusely; most economists write the same way, to give a false patina of authority to their ambiguous writings. Also useful for hedging bets when you’re wrong (‘you misread me!’)."

So if jocks and other well adjusted types had shoved Caplan into lockers 5 times a week instead of two times a week, Caplan would have grown up to not be a resentful nerd who takes out his sexual and social frustration from high school out on the US via support for open borders. Is that how this works?

"Caplan would have grown up to not be a resentful nerd who takes out his sexual and social frustration from high school out on the US via support for open borders. Is that how this works?"

Hahaha. High level reasoning, as racists are widely known to engage in. If only Caplan said women have cooties and force him to play videogames...

Awwww look it's another high school virgin.

"It must be those devilish Polish plumber feminists' fault if women don't find my whining about women sexy. They won't touch me even with a ten feet pole, it only must mean the end of the Christian Western Civilization."

Yeah, Sam, it must be it (I don't blame you for remembering fondly your golden days napping and taking cookies for your mates at kindergarten-- after that, real life may look like a little anticlimactic and even a little unfair, but there is nothing wrong with you, you just peaked earlier than most beings that are not fruit flies, that's all ). I admit, however, the racist commenters and their twisting themselves into knots to justify themselves are funnier than the blog itself is interesting. A good slogan would be: "Come for the economics, stay for (and away from) the ressentful racists".

Do you still wake up sometimes John L. above? Do you still hear your own screaming as your ass was taken by the footballers oh so many years ago?

Hahaha. Sorry, son, it is not your kintergarten. You peaked too early, beating the class' hamster and all-- I am sure it sounded impressive back then. Now go back to licking your boss' boots, they won't shine themselves.

Is every racist a frustrated bully missing the glories of being three years behind his age peers?


The fact that Londoners showed little sympathy for Brexit is telling:

Actually, the densely settled areas of the Home Counties voted for Brexit, as did the most impecunious London boroughs. The loci which voted for Remain were chock-a-block with affluent people and immigrants. The population of affluent people is nowadays amply populated with people like the Mercatus crew who fancy they should get what they want no matter what the rest of the population has to say about it.

The worst argument for someone skeptical of X is to tell them they need even more X.

Especially when the subtext is, we know what's good for you, and we're going to ensure you get it good and hard.

I went to the original page of Bryan Caplan to read his blog and, well, this one is a true believer.

As in "Communism has not yet been tried enough" or "The problems of our Islamic republic are caused by our lacking piety and will be solved by more Sharia and more mosques."

This guy worships (skin-color) diversity quite passionately and cannot wrap his head about the possibility that a) his is quite a minority opinion, b) the package of problems that comes with mass migration, especially with Islamic mass migration, has just destabilized the entire EU.

The parallels with the Communism-defenders is obvious enough and ought to be enough to shame anyone (who isn't BC) from making it.

But on another level it's game theory. I prefer a little immigration to no immigration, but I also want to be able to have a say in the matter. Caplan's signaling that he wants there to be so much that I no longer have a say.

Imagine grabbing the salt shaker to put a little on your food, and the guy next to you grabs your wrist and shouts that he's going to drown your food in salt and you are going to like it. I'd toss that shaker out the window and be okay with no salt rather than risk that guy having any control at all. It's not my best outcome, but it stops the worst outcome.

Well, yeah. My opinion is very similar.

Most people I know are fine with quite a lot of migration from very similar cultures (for Czechs like me, that means Slovaks or Poles), significant migration from similar cultures (say, Balkan Slavs or Russians), moderate migration from strange, but fundamentally compatible cultures (the Vietnamese community in Czechia comes to mind), and strictly limited /managed migration from alien and fundamentally incompatible cultures, like Somalia or Pakistan.

Unfortunately, BC and his friends do not want to make such distinctions.

The results are banlieues full of jihadis. The fate of Nice and Marseille. And, to BCs great delight, of Münster as well.

The open-borders people just seem incapable of connecting these dots.

He's also a pacifist...

It is always very comfortable if you do not have to live with the consequences of whatever you preach.

A pacifist protected by the US army. An immigration fan who never spends an evening in a banlieue. A wealthy heir who fancies Communism.

If mankind really excels at something regardless of creed or race, it is hypocrisy.

"It is always very comfortable if you do not have to live with the consequences of whatever you preach."
Or a bellicist who is not at the wrong side of American guns... or a bellicist who is not at the wrong side of guns pointed to American soldiers, by the way. Remember when they would "welcome us as liberators"? OOps. Thanks God no one "important" suffered with this little mistake.


Let me quote from Gail the Teacher (writing in opposition to Bryan Caplan).

“Let me guess: you don’t (nor have you ever) lived in a community, a neighborhood, in which open borders has resulted in welfare lines at the HHS building two miles away, with anchor baby mothers and their little ones being served your tax dollars. You haven’t waited in a doctor’s office while MediCal patients, armed with their anchor babies, sit five to a row, a mother with four kids (each child about 14 months apart–oh, and btw, not all the kids are actually “anchor” children…maybe only one or two were born here but in your open borders world it’s a moot point anyway). You haven’t stood in the line at Food-4-Less, trying to save a few bucks on your families’ grocery bill while the open borders crowds in front of you pay the bill with food stamps and merrily walk out, only to find a dent they left in your car door. (Funny how they have no appreciation of MY car). Let me guess: you’re thinking, “What a small-minded person, worrying about such little things while I, Caplan the Economist, think of the large ideas of life, the trivial daily problems of regular ole working Americans and their families be damned.”)

You haven’t had the principal tell you that because he needs an extra teacher for the new ESL section he’s opened, he’s pulling out one of your colleagues from the English Department, leaving 37 kids from her former class to be absorbed by the four other sections of the course; thus, you’ve not been told to be ready the next day to receive your “share” of the change.

You haven’t had meeting after meeting to determine some way, ANY way, to encourage the Open Border kids and their parents to learn English, to see to it homework is done–or at least attempted– and most importantly, to see to it they don’t remove their kids from school for five weeks around Christmas and ten days around Easter. (“How is it ‘poor people’ find the money for all that gas or airfare,” you never have to wonder.)

You don’t ever get to see first hand, do you, Bryan, that there are indeed peoples and cultures that don’t want to live the “American Dream” as YOU understand that dream, which includes an education and a grasp of at least the basics of such an education?

Nor do you understand that there are people who don’t wish to assimilate, do you? Nor do you need to ponder why they should when the border is open, when they can cross it any time they wish, and when their real home, the home of the heart, is tanks of gas and a cheap plane ride away.

You do not send your children to these schools, do you, Bryan? You live in no such neighborhood, do you, Bryan? Nor would you because you know the performance of a school is really the performance of the children of that school and your children would learn next to nothing in such a school, but you don’t think anything’s wrong with the children of other Americans who are middle and working class sending their kids to this school, this school of kids who aren’t really (oh, oh, this is probably a really sore spot with you) not_ very_ bright. No, Bryan, not bright. In fact, the occupy the lower end of the Bell. Is it any wonder they don’t show an interest in school? How does one learn algebra, how does one care about algebra with an IQ of 87 or so when multiplication tables are difficult enough?

Indulge in all the intellectualism you wish. It changes nothing. You are intellectually dishonest, and face it, a hypocrite. Or, surprise me by having a new baby, moving to a community like the one I’ve described, living in the neighborhood, and sending your son or daughter to the neighborhood school there. “

I once killed a Republican because he wouldn't listen to my pacifist theory. I'm a fuckboy.

Republicans are so witty when they can hide their names. Not so much when they can't

Yes, if policy fails miserably, double down.

Caplan suffer from that bedeviler of the very smart, ontological over-reach.

Caplan believes the argument for open borders to not just very good, but as close to perfectly moral as a real world policy can get.

Because the argument is so morally superior, so nearly perfect, the real world consequences must necessarily be unambiguously positive and nearly perfect.

If open borders are a normal policy, imperfect and subject to the same sort of debate that other normal policies deserve, you are a fool or hopelessly immoral.

I think adjusting immigration policy with consideration given to likelihood of assimilation is the tricky part here....if assimilation much less likely from certain areas how do you measure it and how do you adjust immigration restrictions without the risk of going full Trump? Can you kick people out for not assimilating? Using economic restrictions like Canada does is probably a good and even-handed start in that direction. Mass immigration of refugees from completely failed countries is probably not a good start.

The economically rational way to do it, IMO, would be to pick an immigration rate necessary to prevent America from graying too quickly (young workers needed), and then fill that immigration rate with a points based immigration policy.

That is in the realm of the possible, because as you say, Canada does it.

And yet given American politics, it does seem unlikely.

The easiest way to assimilate new Americans is to make them. Rise the child tax credit from $1000 to something like $5000 and see what happens to fertility.

Nah, way too many of those babies will be black and Hispanic then.

Make it non-refundable.

To clarify, I don't support some racial goal here. I really, really don't. I replied to quickly and didn't make that clear.

I do think child tax credits should be greatly increased, and I do think it should be non-refundable. If the point of the policy is economic benefit, you need to encourage having kids who won't be dependent on the social welfare system.

Bryan is still missing the big the number reason why natives dislike immigration which is stagnant wages for working classes. The natives feel like the elite (both political and economic) are using immigrants to weaken the position of the natives. It is during increasing wages that the natives learn to turn a blind eye on immigration and immigrants in the workforce.

And let's not pretend that there are not sets of ideas, values and cultures that are essentially. incompatible. This happens even in the business world with failed mergers. Unassimilated swaths of population in a country are just a ticking time bomb and probably expensive in the mean time as lack of cultural assimilation implies a lack of economic assimilation as well. So you are left with the open borders argumentation that its good for the immigrants - that's a very silly argument.

Americans are generally less bound to the land than old world peoples. We generally less believe that we are a nation "here" because a god gave us this spot on earth for us. There are exceptions, but generally Americans lean towards a cosmopolitan view.

Cosmopolitans, jet setters, seasonal expatriates are all the way out there. Any particular ground as a place for their people doesn't make sense. Their people are everywhere. They meet them everywhere.

A borderless world makes a cosmopolitan world. I suppose that is fine in theory, but far far off any practical radar. It is a mostly harmless cosmopolitan fantasy.

Just as immigration auctions are a mostly harmless libertarian fantasy.

Maybe worry a bit about people who think fantasies can be policies.

I seem to recall that the US and Canada both have a visa that requires some level of investment in the country for some fixed length of time. So it's not like the idea of letting people with enough money come here is some unthinkable thing.

It must be really popular in France at this point, with all that first hand experience and all.

Caplan is taking a page from the liberals: when you are completely wrong about something, don't admit you were wrong, just double down.

Caplan is a liberal all right. Market utopia.

Was in London recently (after the Brexit vote). A lot of Londoners seem to have voted to Leave, including many of the Asian immigrant population. They feel that jobs are going to people from Eastern Europe, which they resent.

There was an article about South Asians, particularly chefs, who were voting leave because the political economy of the EU's open borders foreclosed the prospect of easier immigration from their homelands despite the Commonwealth legacies.

"Post 1980s, England underwent a very rapid and significant change with respect to the number of immigrants it allowed to stay in the country."

This appears to be factually wrong:

Net migration to the UK was more or less zero until the mid 1990s, cf. (Figure 1). It then rose to an annual net flow of about 100K for a decade before rising to about 200K from 1995 t0 2005 and 300K over the last decade. Totally unspectular if you compare it to other countries, and a very slow build-up over a generation.

If you look at gross migration (including some 100K British citizens who return), there was only minimal change until the mid 1990s with about 200K annual immigrants. It then slowly moved up to about 500K from 1995 to 2005 and then to about 600K over the past decade. Gross immigration has been pretty steady for about a decade. Again, that's not impressive, neither the level nor the change.

Fun fact: UKIP was founded in 1993 before this very slow and modest "rapid and significant change." They rose to prominence while net and gross immigration hardly budged.

"Net migration to the UK was more or less zero until the mid 1990s,"

Why would the Leave vote care about net migration? If half the country left next year and were replaced by 30 million low skilled non-English speaking immigrants, it would be a net migration rate of Zero. However, it would drastically change the character of the country.

That's why I also supplied the data for gross migration. Actually if you look at Table 1 in the article I linked to, then you can see that net migration for the "Non-British" category was only slightly higher (by about 80K) than total net migration. And the difference even went down. In 2015, net emigration of British citizens was down to less than 40K, so net migration for the "Non-British" category was almost the same as total net migration. All this yields a slight adjustment at most.

[2015 data:]

Yes, you can construct an example that is not relevant here: "If half the country left next year" - assuming 30 million and not less than 40,000 - "and were replaced by 30 million low skilled non-English speaking immigrants," - not close either. If that was the basis for voting "Leave," I have to admit I could not imagine Brexiters were so out of touch with reality and off by a factor of almost 1,000.

Something went wrong with the link:

The 80K is for annual migration, i.e. dividing by 10.

"Fun fact: UKIP was founded in 1993 before this very slow and modest “rapid and significant change.” They rose to prominence while net and gross immigration hardly budged."

UKIP didn't immediately rise to "prominence" after they were founded. Look at their share of the vote.

UKIP share of vote:
1994 MEP Election: 0.98%
1997 General Election: 0.3%
1999 MEP Election: 6.96%
2001 General Election: 1.5%
2004 MEP Election: 15.6%
2005 General Election: 2.2%
2009 MEP Election: 16.5%
2010 General Election: 3.1%
2014 MEP Election: 26.6%
2015 General Election: 12.7%

Your stats indicate a spike in in-migration starting around 1997 and accelerating from there. The first big result for UKIP is the ~7% in 1999 which is about what we would expect. It doesn't immediately translate into General Election results, but their European Parliament electoral results are probably more salient here.

In any event, when I look at that record, it looks to me like their rise to "prominence" occurs perfectly in tandem with the massive increase in gross immigration. And net immigration (although as other commenters have explained the "net" figure is not all that meaningful here).

The two sentences were not meant to refer to the same time period (I understand that my wording does not make that clear, sorry.) "They rose to prominence" would refer to the period from 2004 onwards.

It's perhaps debatable, but I only see a smooth upward trend and no sudden acceleration or spike or jump to a new level for net immigration (cf. Figure 1):

Net immigration hovers around 300K after 2004. Emigration varies only little, so gross immigration moves almost in parallel with net immigration (cf. the second graph). Gross immigration after 2004 hovers around 600K plus/minus 50K. I don't see the "massive increase". 50K is less than 0.1% of British population.

You're a confusing dude.

Go Tyler Cowen! Wow, he is actually highly critical of Caplan here.

"Only whiplash avoids a backlash", wow!

"There is a very simple interpretation of current events. [...] I think [Caplan] is simply afraid to stare that rather obvious truth in the eye."

Finally! The war of the article vs the comments seems to be resolving. The two sides seem to move towards understanding each other.

Considering there was really only one or two defenders of Caplan in the 75+ comments above, and one of those wasn't Cowen, then I have to conclude Trump is going to win in November in a landslide- an absolute landslide.

If the MR comment section could deliver 150 or so electoral votes, then you'd be absolutely right about that. You may be falling for the Pauline Kael fallacy however.


"You may be falling for the Pauline Kael fallacy however"

That's true. However, the comments section everywhere (almost everywhere) now shows deep hostility towards elites. I see this in the U.S. and in Europe. If the people who post comments over at the Guardian don't buy the Guardian BS, that probably more indicative of a shift than MR. The comments section of the Economist is now so hostile (towards the Economist) that the Economist has started writing about it.

Conversely, the media remains as reflexively (and fanatically) pro-elite as ever. However, the ability of the media to persuade the public is declining. Essentially everyone in the UK media opposed Brexit. It passed anyway. The German media remains rabidly pro-Open Borders. The revelations that the German media covered up the Cologne attacks probably ended the credibility of the media in Germany.

I am not sure that we have reached tipping point either in the U.S. or in Europe. However, it isn't hard to see the shift in public (but not elite) opinion.

Elites don't have time to over-run comment sections on blogs. Except for me of course, and Ray Lopez. And the Commodore.


David Cameron definitely didn't have time for blog comments. Maybe now he does. Ray Lopez can probably take a break from his underage girlfriend from time to time.

So you want a Rothschild shill to win the election? Caplan wants the end of nations and global markets to rule the roost. So does Trump.

Trump literally wants nothing more than to publicly win things and to make money. He doesn't care about global or national anything.

I think Trump and Hillary are both in it primarily for power, fame, and the the desire to feel like a success. Money is probably secondary or tertiary for both. But I also think both of them have some principles that they actually hold to for their own sake. Trump seems to be a nationalist of not-recent vintage. Hillary has been involved in politics for decades now so it is harder for me to point to something that I think she definitively believes in, but I still think there is some principle beneath the politician.

Agree with msgkings. We don't need another 8 years of that.

"Agree with msgkings. We don’t need another 8 years of that."

Ah.... I've got bad news for you.

"4. London already has a population pre-selected to like immigration."

More like post-selected. Obviously, people who don't like the effects of immigration on their communities will tend to leave. The left-over residual is going to be people who either didn't care or liked the effect immigration had on their communities.

You can't attribute all domestic out-migration from London to immigration, of course -- there are lots of other factors that push people out even if some of them, like property prices, congestion, and cost of living, may be indirectly connected to high levels of immigration. And some people who leave may themselves be first generation immigrants.

At any rate, with those caveats, according to, for the year ending June 2015, "London had the highest rate of internal migration net outflow (9.1 per 1,000 residents as at mid-2014)." London's population was about 8.5 million in 2014 (it was over 8.6 million by mid 2015), so net-net, you're looking at about 75,000 people leaving London for other parts of England every year. The population, of course, continues to increase, driven by immigration from overseas, i.e. the natives are being displaced by foreigners. It's not hard to see how the cumulative effect, over several years, could be quite significant.

I'll continue your argument further. Using the same stats, approx. 29 per 1,000 left London for the rest of the UK in 2015 (with 20 per 1,000 are doing the reverse move). The areas gaining population from this movement were the Southwest, East of England, and East Midlands. If these percentages were typical, during the past ten years it's quite likely that 40% of the non-foreign-born population of London moved to those parts of the country where "Leave" voters were in the majority (key assumption: foreign-born Londoners were much less likely to move). That would amount to approx. 2.5 million non-foreign-born ex-Londoners living elsewhere. The total for Leave was 17 million. We have no idea if these ex-Londoners voted for Leave, but it would be interesting to find out if some correlation existed.

It did not occur to me till I read this post that you have to go to the outskirts of London to see a majority of people who were actually born in the UK.

Unrestricted immigration (not selective controlled immigration let's be clear here) is awesome if you're the 0.1 % who have the money or human capital to float above it all.

Oh please .1% my ass. The top 50% easily can float above that "mess". That is why nobody lives in London proper that was actually born in the UK. Would anybody come back if they were removed? I sorta doubt it.

Capitalism needs expansion to exist. It is parasitical. It was why colonial empires become important, especially the colonialism of the 1870's crisis. Then when colonialism had died in 1933 and could no longer support capitalism, capitalism was comes debt via the nation state. When that became to rich, in comes private debt via transfers, which immigration is one of.

I had a think and solved the immigration thing. Unlimited sponsored immigration. We set no numerical limits, no religious screening, no income or training requirements. We require every immigrant to be sponsored by an adult citizen in good standing (i.e. not in prison, etc.). A sponsor may bring in an unlimited number of immigrants, but is personally responsible for any differential between the taxes paid by the immigrant and the public services consumed. Furthermore, the sponsor pays or serves half the criminal penalties assessed against his or her sponsored immigrants. Volent felons deported and the sponsor serves the sentence.There you go. We have exactly the amount of immigration the citizens want. If you want more, you can have as much as you like, if you can afford it. If you sponsor nothing but peaceful immigrants who aren't a social service drain, there is no downside! And the concerns of some about crime or increased cost are covered. The system is cost-neutral and incentivizes against bringing in high-crime demographics.

Terrible idea. The current US system works in a similar way where one village member gains citizenship and sponsors his whole extended village.

The better ideas:
- Take the failed states of the globe, where >50% of the populace wants to flee or has recently vacated. Repurpose part or all of that land for charter cities run by the international elites who've preached multi-cultural mass immigration to US+Europe.
- pump the brakes hard on immigration to us/europe/canada/australia. They've had enough for a while. Focus on immigration that is strictly beneficial from people who are already middle class.
- Break up EU. Allow the US states sovereignty and full rights of secession. Admit the Confederacy was right. Replace Lincoln on the $5 with John Wilkes Booth and honor America's great actors.

"Admit the Confederacy was right. Replace Lincoln on the $5 with John Wilkes Booth and honor America’s great actors."

Hahahaha. The crazies are the funniest ones.

Much better idea: let the crazies who idolize Slavery (saying "the Confederation was right" is as stupid as saying "Hitler was right") secede and look for a new country (if possible, i another continent) for them.

Here's a guy who flunked history class.

I think your dealer is spiking your meth, Massimo. That, or you are just bugnuts insane.

Is any critic of Hitler a critic of Hitler's vegetarianism and an advocate of slaughtering animals for meat?

Most supporters of the Confederacy do not support slavery or oppose abolition. Even Robert E Lee opposed slavery.

Immigration has been the hotly contentious issue on this site and the extended pop-econ blog circle for quite some time. The comment sections have grown increasingly hostile. Caplan's blog has been more aggressive about banning critics, this site more lenient.

I'm actually pleasantly shocked to see TC issue such a stern rebuke to the idea of mass immigration as this ultimate good that can have no downsides. That's a really big deal. TC is telling Caplan that he's got his head in the sand and is just refusing to admit that he was wrong. That's unusually strongly worded for TC.

Caplan made two big bets on immigration that looks like he will lose. He hasn't lost the Brexit bet yet, because Britain still hasn't officially left the EU, but it looks likely. Next, "The total number of deaths in France from riots and terrorism will be less than 500 between May 28, 2008 and May 28, 2018." If he loses both of these, I suspect most of this circle will readily conclude that caplan was completely wrong even on his own terms.

Caplan-style open borders is as stupid as you-style closed ones. The grownups needs to figure out a good middle way.

Allow a relatively small but steady flow of immigrants who will be net contributors to public finances, and who are above average in intelligence and skills, and who are ready and willing to assimilate and consider themselves American first (including renunciation of any other citizenship upon becoming American citizens). Do not allow others.

"you-style closed ones"? I prefer completely closed borders over what we have now or what Caplan advocates, but I really would be fine with other reasonable strategies.

Now apply this same logic to demographic changes in the US vs proportion of Trump voters

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